Apart from its known association with short- and long-term adverse physical, psychological, and sexual sequelae, female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) could be associated with increased susceptibility to HIV. Some experts propose that FGM/C increases risk of genital trauma and bleeding. Given the known protective effect for men of male circumcision against HIV and that, in some communities, male circumcision and FGM/C are thought of as “equivalent” or parallel procedures, there is an obvious need to more accurately determine the effects of FGM/C on HIV infection risk in women.
This article reviewed current evidence of associations between FGM/C and HIV, drawing on evidence from peer-reviewed as well as grey literature. All studies evaluated were observational. This review investigated associations between FGM/C and HIV, not a causal relationship, and observational studies therefore sufficed. The final review included 14 studies from several African countries.
The strength of the evidence overall was determined to be of low to moderate quality by Department for International Development criteria: conceptual framing, openness and transparency, cogency, appropriateness and rigour, validity, reliability, and cultural sensitivity. Findings were inconsistent: four studies found no association between FGM/C and HIV, six found a negative association, two found a positive association, and two found an indirect association. Many of the studies had significant deficiencies including insufficient statistical power, inadequate adjustment for potential confounders, and measurement of FGM/C status by self-reporting alone.
The available evidence did not conclusively demonstrate the anticipated association between FGM/C and HIV. This review revealed the need for stronger study designs and outlines some considerations for future research.